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Proton wins appeal in Swiss court over surveillance laws

Proton was at the centre of a social media storm in September after it handed over an IP address that led to the arrest of climate activists. © Keystone

A Swiss court has upheld the appeal of Geneva-based Proton, a provider of secure and anonymous email services, limiting its obligation to monitor traffic and retain data for surveillance purposes.

On Friday, the Swiss Federal Administrative Court upheld Proton’s appeal against the Swiss Post and Telecommunications Surveillance Service (PTSS) over obligations to store data and monitor email traffic. The court confirmed that email services can’t be considered telecommunications providers in Switzerland, and therefore are not subject to data retention requirements.

Proton founder and CEO Andy Yen said the ruling was an “important first step” in its campaign to advance privacy and freedom, reported Reuters.

“We expect there to be further attempts to force tech companies to undermine privacy in both Switzerland and abroad, and we are committed to continuing to challenge this through both our encryption technology and through the courts,” he said.

PTSS had decided in September 2020 that Proton could no longer benefit from limited surveillance obligations but had to store data necessary for surveillance and be available to answer questions. The court overturned this and sent it back on appeal.

Last month ProtonMail found itself in the centre of a social media storm after it emerged that the company shared the IP address of one of its users as part of a French investigation that led to the arrest of climate activists. However, the company said that it had to comply with a Swiss court order to provide data that helped identify the activists.

From its inception, the company has prided itself on strict user privacy and security. The recording of IP addresses is only allowed in “extreme criminal cases” according to the company’s transparency report.

ProtonMail was founded in 2013 at the initiative of a group of scientists from CERN in Geneva and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Proton says it is the largest secure email provider and uses end-to-end encryption and state-of-the-art security features.


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